Week 40 – Queen Elizabeth and Trekking to the Mountain Gorillas

After we left Jinja, we continued our time in Uganda by first stopping in the capital city of Kampala. Here, we again stopped at the supermarket. One of my only regrets about this trip is that any time we are in the city we are either in a campsite or a grocery store and I would like to see more of the cities. We arrived in Entebbe, which was really close to Kampala and when we arrived we picked up a couple of new people. Nathan and Jo were from New Zealand, Corinne from the US, and Nicole from Mexico. This was a nice campsite because it had really pretty grass and also we could walk down to the lake.

Maribou stork on the beach…they are so tall!

Kylie and I worked out when we got there and then walked with Cole to the lake to meet up with the others. It wasn’t as easy to find as we thought it would be. We ended up at a private beach and we had to go through security to get there. Also, we never found the others. On the beach there were so many Maribou stork. Maribou stork are amazing birds because they are so big! They are at least 4 feet tall and we think they look like an old undertaker the way they walk. I was so surprised to see that they even fly. We walked back up to the campsite for mexican tacos for dinner. Then, Freya, Anika, and I had a movie night in our tent watching Matilda.

Michelle braving the rainy truck day

The following morning we woke up and drove to Kalinzu. This was a stopover so that we could hike and find some chimpanzees. This was our first truck day with rain. It poured all day! The truck is not designed for rain and it was coming in off the tarps and through the ceiling and we were all getting wet. It was a great first truck day for our newbies. We drove all day and when we arrived it was the worst camp yet. The grass was all wet and they just had two drop toilets. We had a little shelter area where we could cook, but there was no lights. It was kind of miserable to set up the tents so we just drank a bunch of wine. It poured all night.

Anika is ready to trek for some chimpanzees!

The following morning we woke up early and set out for a chimpanzee trek. We started along the road and then descended into the jungle. The forest was simultaneously beautiful and eerie. The sun was just making it through the trees, but the branches just wound around the bushes and other trees. Very quickly after entering the forest we came across a group of colobus monkeys. They were jumping through the trees and eating all of the fruits. We watched them for awhile and then moved on because one of the trackers had found a chimpanzee. We hiked for about 40 more minutes and then we saw our first chimpanzee!

The eerie forest in Kalinzu

It was a big male and he was very high up in the trees. It was hard to get a good look at him because the forest was very dense, but we were running around through bushes trying to find the best spot. He just sat up at the top of the tree chomping away. He was different to smaller monkeys in that he didn’t want to move. He would grab branches in his reach and bend them to get the fruits. He also did a lot of scratching.

Chimpanzee high up in the tree

He kept moving so we were constantly changing positions below him. It was fun just to be this close to him. Then, it started to rain again and he kind of just hunkered down in one spot so we moved on to another chimp. Again, it was a solitary male and again he didn’t want to move very much. I was a bit disappointed that they were so far up the trees, but it was a cool experience to see them in their natural habitat.

View of the forest as we exited

We hiked back to camp in the rain and the trail was pretty slick. When we returned, we packed up and drove to Queen Elizabeth National Park. We drove into the park and drove around a bit looking for animals, but we didn’t see many at this time. After a quick pee break, we headed down to the highlight of the park which is the hippo cruise.

Hippo cruise! Photo credit – Daniel Wong

We were in a double decker boat and I stayed on the ground level toward the front. It was a such a great cruise. Right away we started to see wildlife. There was a crash (herd) of hippos in the water and since we were in the boat, we could get really close to them as well. I love to watch hippos ears flap when they are in the water.

Hippos grazing on the shore: Photo credit – Daniel Wong

As we progressed we saw so many of them in different clusters. Some were even on shore sleeping, which is unusual for hippos in the daytime because their skin is really sensitive to the sun. Later on, we also saw a lot of hippo babies both in and out of the water. I love baby animals, they are the best!

Baby hippo running into the water

We did see a dead hippo carcass floating in the water and that was really sad. It looked like two of the male hippos were fighting for territory and the one we saw obviously lost. There were marks all down the side of him. It must have been pretty recent as well because there wasn’t much decay.

Dead hippo carcass in the water

We saw many different types of birds as well. My favorite were the pied kingfisher. They were these little black and white birds that would fly around and when they saw a fish in the water they would bat their wings really fast and then dive into the water to catch the fish. There were so many of them. I also really like weavers, which are these yellow birds that build nests that hang on the trees and they climb up into the nests. Predators cannot reach them because the branches would not hold the weight of larger animals.

The pied kingfisher

Other birds that we saw were Egyptian geese, ibis, egret, and hamerkop. Seeing the hamerkop was really funny because Cole told Dan and I the name and we both thought he said hamercock. Also, Cole was telling us how big their nests were and we laughed so hard because the hamercock’s need a big nest. It was really funny!

On the way back we finally saw an elephant drinking from the water. It was a young male elephant. While we were watching, he let out a big poop, sniffed it, and then got “excited” from the smell of his own poop. Yet again, we were exposed to a 5 legged elephant. I thought it was hilarious and took pictures and now for the rest of the trip everyone sends me pictures of the male animals genitalia that we encounter.

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After the hippo cruise, we headed for the campsite. It was a bush camp in the park which meant that any of the animals that we saw could just come through the campsite. First, we saw the most amazing sunset over the lake. Then, we had a local dinner which was pretty good. We all went to bed early because it had been an action packed day. During the night, we could hear the hippos!

Sunset in Queen Elizabeth National park

The following morning we woke up early, hopped back on the truck, and drove out of the national park. On the way, we saw some more elephants in the bush that were really close to the truck. They were eating and there were also babies. One of my favorite elephants was a female who looked at our truck assessing it, went to cross the street, changed her mind, and then back up. Yet, this whole thing looked like a dance and it was entertaining. 

The dancing elephant

Today was another drive day where we went to Kisoro. Kisoro is a city on the border of Uganda and Rwanda and we were stopping here to see the mountain gorillas. The company used to stop in Rwanda for the gorillas, but now the permits doubled in price so they do the gorillas on the Uganda side instead. Along the drive, we stopped on the side of the road for a view. There, we saw lots of kids and some people on our truck gave them food. Yet, it turned into a free for all for the food and got awkward so we left.

Side of the road truck stop with the local children

In Kisoro, we were staying at a hostel and it was really nice to finally have a bed. I was in a room with all of the single girls and it was fun. We had dinner that night at the hostel and I went to bed early because I had my gorilla trek in the morning!

Uganda has beautiful countrysides!

We woke up really early and it was nice that Derek had woken up to make us french toast and then we were off in vehicles to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to see the gorillas. We first arrived at the park entrance and we were briefed on the gorillas and what we would be seeing. We would trek to find them, but once we arrived we could only spend an hour with them. We were split into two groups, one that would trek for 2 hours and then other would trek for 30 minutes before arriving at the gorillas. We were going to see 2 different families.

The silverback gorilla!

We hopped back in our car and they drove us for another 30 minutes until they dropped us off to start hiking. At first we were hiking in the farmland and we walked up to the top of the hill and had a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Uganda is a very green country and the scenery here is stunning. Then, we entered the impenetrable forest.

All he did was eat!

The forest had really thick vegetation and I was really happy there was a cleared path. We were walking really fast to try to find the gorillas. We walked for about 2 hours and then we met up with the trackers who guard the forest and who find the gorillas for us. They took us off the path and from there is was hard going. It was hard to know where to step because we were walking on plant roots and not the ground. Also, there were elephant footprints everywhere filled with water which were hard to avoid. Finally, we saw the gorillas!

Peek a boo!

First, we saw one in the tree and she was just looking at us as we walked. Then, we saw the silverback. The silverback is the male in charge of the group. He is the biggest gorilla and he does in fact have a silver back. He was huge! He was just chomping away on the leaves. Then, he moved and as we followed we saw 3 juveniles playing behind him. They were hilarious! They were swinging on a vine and acting like children.

Baby gorillas in the tree

So, we continued to follow the male and watch him as he the vegetation. He really just stripped the leaves of vines with his teeth. I am surprised the grass didn’t cut him. Along the way we also saw a female that to me looked like a wise old grandma. She was just looking at us and was not bothered by the fact that we were there.

The wise old grandma gorilla

Soon, our hour was almost up and none of us wanted to leave. Luckily our guide spotted one more gorilla up the hill and we started to climb the vegetation to get to her which was hard work. Also, she was really shy. She would pop her head up and then go down again. The guides pulled the leaves away from her face and then she tried to hide again. Eventually she left. Yet, behind her was a female with a 3 year old baby.

The shy gorilla

These two were my favorite. He was sitting on her lap and I had a clear view. She was cuddling him and he was making noises to her. I even saw her pick him up, hug him, readjust, hug him again, and then hold him to her chest like we would to our children. It was just amazing.

My favorite gorillas!

Finally, we left the forest and the whole way out I was on a high. It was such an amazing experience to see these friendly giants and to be so close to them. It is such a shame that they endangered and poached. I hope that they do not go extinct because they are truly magnificent creatures.

Our group for gorilla trekking

We returned to camp and I was so tired, so I took a nap. When I woke up, I heard that some people from the Pygmy tribe were going to come dance for us. This tribe has the shortest people in the world. Yet, they have been prosecuted a bit and now they tend to be alcoholics and perform for money. It was very entertaining, yet you could tell some were drunk.

The pygmy people dancing for us

The following day was a really relaxed day for me. We found out that it was our tour leader Derek’s birthday and so we went out and got him a cake and a T shirt. Then, I washed all my laundry and hung it to dry, then laid out a blanket and read a book while keeping an eye on my clothes. Many of the others had gone out to town and when they came back we all did some yoga and other workouts together.

Derek’s surprise cake

Finally, after dinner we surprised Derek with his cake and shirt. He was really happy. We were all in a great mood and decided we would have a sing a long dance party. We sang all of the classic lion king songs, danced around to the famous line dances, and sang a goodbye song to Ai-Lynn who would be leaving us the following day. Then, we all laid down and watched the stars. It was a wonderful night. Kisoro was a great place and I still can’t believe I saw the mountain gorillas!


Cole getting the perfect shot
Saying goodbye to Ai-lynn

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